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Bill Werber and Baseball in the 1930's

Bill Werber and C. Paul Rogers III

Pages 182-184


He was eighty-eight when I talked to him on the phone recently, has

two new knees, and no longer bounces around on the balls of his feet as he

did when he was a charter member of the Jungle Club. He has had

quadruple bypass surgery, but his voice is strong and he laughs easily. Says

he rides his bicycle daily for exercise, which he can do in Hayden, Idaho,

without concern for traffic, and every evening at 7:30 he attends church. I

tell him, "That's not going to get you into heaven."

He chuckles and says, "Probably not, but I'll give it a chance:

His oldest son Tom is an attorney in Hayden, and Lonny is surrounded

by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. His beloved wife

Mary passed away some years ago, as did his first born, Jerry. Time has

helped to ease the pain of these losses, and Mike, his youngest, lives nearby.

Lonny seems at peace with the world.

Back up fifty-nine years and this same Lonny Frey is one of the principal

reasons the Cincinnati Reds ended a twenty-year drought and won the

1939 pennant. He hit .291 and scored 95 runs in '39, followed by a .266

average for our World Championship team in 1940, while playing a mean

second base. More than his statistics, however, were the intangible qualities

Lonny brought to the team. Every club has players of outstanding talent

and bad habits, but the team seldom wins without players of substance

and character who come through when the chips are down. Lonny was one

of those.

When I was sold to the Reds by Connie Mack in the late spring of 1939,

I naturally began to assess my new teammates. You naturally form opinions

from a ballplayer's performance on the field, but also from the way he

dresses, the way he talks, and what he talks about. A newcomer observes

these things and tends to gravitate toward the teammates with whom he

feels most comfortable. A veteran like me tends to move slowly before

settling into friendships, but Lonny Frey became my friend-after Dusty

Cooke the best friend I had in thirteen years of professional baseball.

Lonny was a veteran like me. He had come to the big leagues with

Brooklyn in 1933 and played shortstop for the Dodgers for five years. After

he spent 1937 with the Cubs, the Reds purchased him to plug a hole at

second base, which he did with considerable skill and alacrity for seven years.

By the time Lonny hung up his cleats in 1948 after late career stints with

the Cubs, Giants, and Yankees, he had appeared in three All Star Games

and three World Series.

Lonny and I shared many of the same habits and attitudes. He did not

smoke or drink and was devoted to his wife Mary and his children, Jerry,

Tom and Mike. He liked a movie after a ballgame and was a good sleeper.

He was devoutly religious and a regular attendee at Catholic services on

Sunday morning. I'm not Catholic, but I sometimes attended with him.

Lonny could not explain to me the constant rising and sitting and rising at

Mass or the Latin of the priests, but it did not matter. We both could have

been doing worse. When we were playing at the Polo Grounds or Ebbets

Field, Lonny loved to go to St. Patricks Cathedral, burn a candle, put

money in the poor box, and say a prayer. I went with him and made small

contributions as well. If the next day I got the hits and he went for the col-

lar, I'd tell him that Catholicism worked better for me than it did for him.

Lonny brought those intangible qualities of good humor and depend-

ability to the ballpark every day. He had the stability and self-confidence

gained from a secure family and spiritual life. He also had good physical

assets as well. He was one of the fastest men on the Reds (he led the league

with 22 stolen bases in 1940), and he used his speed to advantage both on

offense and defense. Through it all "the Leopard" covered a great expanse

of territory around second base and excelled at making the double play. He

was steady. You could count on his doing the right thing at the right time

during a game. I suspect that is still true.

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